Editing by Unfamiliarity
By Todd King, Alumnus, Bluegrass Writers Studio
Before I was a student in the creative writing program I adhered to the maxim to write for yourself--that what I wrote only mattered if it pleased me. Even after finishing my MFA, I think the maxim is absolutely true. As I continue writing, however, I’m finding that its essence goes deeper: I write for myself, not just as a writer, but for myself as a reader.
There is a sense of discovery when it seems you’ve matched abstract concepts of your imagination into words--you see the images and feel the emotions. There is a sense of accomplishment in seeing it all animated by text alone. You’ve pleased yourself as a writer. But then someone reads it and they don’t get it. It didn’t move the reader as it moved the writer.
Up until this point in my progress as a writer, I was not holding the reader in much regard. It was counter to my approach--it wasn’t part of that maxim. As I continued to develop, I saw that story production cannot stop with the writer’s sense of accomplishment. It has to be read. It has to be understood. There are a cajillion people out there each with his or her own perspective of the world. They are going to bring that perspective into their act of reading. So how do I get them to accept my perspective and pull them into the story I’ve made?
As writers, we see our world from within. We have sensed it only from our own imagination. We must approach that world from without. We must experience it as a reader. It is adamant that we leave the work, step away from it for long enough so that when we return to revise it, it is new and unfamiliar--like it is for our readers. Then may the words conjure the pictures in our imaginations, instead of the other way around. We can hold the words up to a reader’s scrutiny. As the creator of the work, however, we know what those pictures ought to be. Thus the art begins. You craft the work by pleasing yourself, the reader, who just happens to be the writer.
Published on December 26, 2013